The prospect of rolling out of bed on a blustery winter day to sledge through five inches of slush is a harrowing prospect for any University student. But soon what some are calling a “hipper” mode of transport might be clanging to your doorstep. Ann Arbor, make way for the streetcar. As an environmentally friendly form of transportation and, frankly, just an original and exhilarating way to get around and spice up the city, streetcars sound like the way to go – despite the high cost.
The hot item in urban public transportation is the streetcar. Cities like Seattle, New Orleans and Toronto have already implemented similar systems. And people have taken a liking to them. Usage numbers in Seattle, for instance, exceeded expectations. This bodes well for Ann Arbor, a city already enamored with public transport and looking to add to its arsenal.
Trams are tree-hugger compatible for a number of reasons. They can carry up to twice as many passengers than traditional buses. That means fewer vehicles on the roads. Shuttle trams, which transport people from the city’s outskirts and reduce congestion downtown, would eliminate gridlock. This in turn lowers carbon emissions. All of this means that trams are the next logical technology to pursue in order to maintain Ann Arbor’s rep as revolutionary.
The city has been doing a good job lately greening itself, rather than just its image. Other cities have fallen into this trap. Last fall, the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority announced it would add 13 biofuel buses to its fleet in the next year. Ann Arbor also recently took top honors as arguably the first 100 percent LED-lighted city in the nation.
It’s true that this shiny new train comes with a hefty price tag. Its initial investment is marked at $50 million or more. And annual upkeep for similar systems can cost up to $5 million. But the city shouldn’t let all those zeros scare it away. This is exactly the kind of step a city that wishes to remain on the cusp of eco-consciousness needs to take.
Like other cities, it seems likely that the money will turn up with alternative financing options. Some cities have been able to get partial private funding. Portland was able to receive funding from the Oregon Health & Science University, which contributed because student usage was estimated to be high. If Ann Arbor decides on streetcars, the University of Michigan should consider chipping in.
Besides being environmentally friendly, streetcars are a flashy way to increase usage of public transportation. They are hip, modern and in demand. Students and city residents alike would use these.
Bringing streetcars to Ann Arbor represents challenge, but it’s one the city needs to take on. The system wouldn’t be in place for five to eight years, which gives it plenty of time to get fiscally creative. It’s time for the city to jump on board.